House GOP decries back-to-school 'inflation' — but it was worse under Trump

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Republicans in Congress are upset that families plan to spend more on back-to-school expenses this year than last year — when many schools weren't in-person.

House Republicans argued on Tuesday that an increase in expected back-to-school spending must be proof that President Joe Biden's economic policies are fueling inflation. But they ignored that the increase was even larger last year, under then-President Donald Trump.

"Average back-to-school spending is up $59 from last year, while students are not even guaranteed in-person learning #Bidenflation," the Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee tweeted.

A spokesperson for the committee's minority members did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

But the figure appears to come from an annual "Back-to-School" survey done by the National Retail Federation, the trade group for the retail industry. They estimated that expected back-to-school spending for 2021 was about $848.90 per household for 2021 — up $59 from $789 in 2020.

A year ago, a huge number of American families prepared for a back-to-school that was largely remote. While a handful of states began the 2020-2021 school year with in-person instruction, 74% of the largest 100 school systems began the year remote-only, according to Education Week. This meant more than 9 million students were preparing for an atypical virtual back-to-school experience.

Since, the vast majority of schools in the United States have moved toward at least some in-person instruction.

But even if one takes 2020, a year largely consumed by the pandemic, as a normal one, the House GOP seems to be ignoring the reality that the increase was significantly higher a year ago, under Trump.  According to the same National Retail Federation data, back-to-school spending increased last year by $92 per family — up from about $697 in 2019. At no time did Republicans warn of "#Trumpflation."

Congressional Republicans have repeatedly tried to make rising prices as the economy reopens a campaign issue, suggesting that Biden's economic policies are fueling inflation — even though most of his economic proposals have not yet become law.

While the recent boom has fueled some economic inflation, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell — a Trump appointee — has predicted it will "wane over time."

While the GOP's tweet also complained that not all students are guaranteed in-person instruction due to the ongoing pandemic, every single House Republican opposed the Democrats' $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. That package included more than $125 billion in funding for schools to more safely return to in-person learning.

It provided most Americans with $1,400 relief checks and gave nearly all families with kids an expanded child tax credit. The payments being sent out to families with dependent children could also be a factor in the increased back-to-school spending.

"It's a good thing for Walmart and grocery stores," University of Notre Dame economics professor Jim Sullivan told CNBC in July. "The retail sectors where middle- and lower-income families spend money are likely to benefit some from this."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.